Thursday, July 31, 2008

Red Cross Worker Shares Tales from Thailand

It's been nearly three years since a devastating tsunami struck the southeast Asian country of Thailand, but recovery is still ongoing--at least according to American Red Cross Senior Field Representative for the Tsunami Recovery Program David Strobel. The tsunami, which has an estimated death toll exceeding 230,000 has left some communities still without basic amenities. David Strobel says the recovery effort is well underway, but that there are still improvements to be made. Some current programs in Thailand include a Water, Sanitation, and Health Promotion Project, Community-Based Health Project, and a Disaster Preparedness Project.

Strobel also saw action in response to the May Cyclone Nargis disaster in Myanmar/Burma whose devastation has left an estimated 140,000 dead. He helped organization deployment of disaster response volunteers amidst Myanmar moratorium on visas. The Pittsburgh native will spend some time in the city over the course of August and then return to Thailand where he spends 11 months out of the year.

Port Authority Says You Can Save Money By Riding The Bus

The Port Authority of Allegheny County has produced a report that documents the savings an average Pittsburgher can make by using public transit as opposed to regular car use. A report like this will be released every month because of changing gas prices. Currently, public transit riders can save more than $7,000 a year, or $666 a month. The report uses data from AAA.

Ramaley ends Campaign

Saying it is impossible for him to run a focused campaign, State Representative Sean Ramaley has filed papers to end his State Senate campaign. Ramaley is alleged to have held a do-nothing job in state representative Mike Veon’s office when Ramaley was campaigning for the house seat four years ago. Ramaley says he is innocent but the he fears the race will focus on the photograph of him being arrested rather than the issues important to the district. Ramaley says he will serve out the rest of his term as a state representative. The party has until august 15th to name a new candidate. Ramaley’s lawyer says the timing of the charges was politically motivated. The charges were filed has part of the “bonusgate” investigation.

Work To Start On Parkway North Inbound On Sunday

PennDot District 11 will be closing the inbound (southbound) lane of the parkway north starting on Sunday August 3rd, 2008. The work that is being done is preventative maintenance because no significant repairs have been made on the roadway since it's opening in 1989. The project will preserve the roadway and bridges to prevent future more costly maintenance. Traffic will shift to the HOV lanes. The project is expected to be completed by mid-September.

Attorney General offenders using MySpace

The State Attorney General is upset with sex offenders that have MySpace accounts. A court order recently gave the Attorney General's office information on 185 sex offenders who have profiles.

Attorney General spokesperson Nils Frederiksen says it is innappropriate for these people to use MySpace. Online predators could use it like an online shopping network to lure their prey, he remarks.

Frederiksen says none of these offenders have violated court orders with their accounts so far, but investigators need to look at each case individually. He suspects other sex offenders use an alias, and the Attorney General hopes MySpace and law enforcement will cooperate with further investigation in finding those people.

University Of Pittsburgh Students Study Historical Building

Architectural Studies students from the University of Pittsburgh have investigated the history of the Henry J. Lynch building in the Bloomfield neighborhood of the city. They uncovered much of the history of what is now the Waldorf school. The building is a designated historic landmark but little was known about its history. The students found three architects who worked on additions to the building but were unable to find the original architect. They were also able to chronicle the buildings owners and inhabitants which before had been incomplete.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

One Hill Calls Off Protest Action

The One Hill Coalition has called off plans to try to stop construction at the arena site tomorrow. One Hill Chairman Carl Redwood says group members have been frustrated by a delay in signing a community benefits agreement for their neighborhood.

One Hill, which represents residents in the Hill District, agreed to sign the CBA on May 10th. Since then, Redwood says the other parties involved have been dragging their feet. Both Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato say they intend to sign the agreement but there may have been some delays due to conflicting summer schedules.

The agreement includes a master plan for development in the Hill, a career center, and funding for a grocery store and community center.

Malta Temple One Step Away From Historic Designation

Pittsburgh City Council has preliminarily approved a historic designation for the Malta Temple in the North Side. The Salvation Army owns the building and objects to the designation. The Salvation Army wants to demolish the building and replace it with one that the organization says would be better suited for its efforts in the community. The historic designation nomination was made by the Mexican War Streets Society. Councilman Ricky Burgess cast the only no vote. He says the building should be protected as a place of worship. The Salvation Army is a Christian organization. A final vote is expected Tuesday.

City Council Gives Preliminary Approval To Bond Refinancing

The Pittsburgh City Council has preliminarily approved a refinancing of $77 million in bonds from 1998. The refinancing would result in a savings of $3 million. A final vote is set for Tuesday. If passed, the City Council must decide what to do with the savings. Possible options include continuing to pay down the city's debt, putting the money into the next budget, or to using it in the current budget for capital investments or infrastructure repair.

Ferlo Rallies for Health Care

State Senator Jim Ferlo took part in a rally and anniversary party today as part of his ongoing effort to establish a single-payer health care program. Today is the 43rd anniversary of the passage of the federal Medicare program. The event at the Teamster’s Local 249 in Lawrenceville marked the anniversary and rallied in support of House Resolution 676. That resolution calls for the creation of a single-payer health care system. Ferlo says the Medicare program should be expanded to cover all Americans. He admits everyone would have to pay higher taxes, but he says we are already paying for coverage and through hidden societal costs, such as lost work time and bankruptcies. He says everyone would have to pay in, but everyone would be covered. Ferlo says problems with Medicare, like the Part D prescription drug program, need to be fixed before it is expanded. Ferlo says simply allowing the federal government to negotiate for the best rate possible for medications would bring huge savings.

Westmoreland Traffic Deaths Up

The death toll from auto-related accidents in Westmoreland County is climbing, with 34 fatalities so far this year.

Jay Ofsanik, a PennDOT safety spokesperson, says the accident reports show a trend. People who sped, were under the influence of alcohol, or did not wear a seat belt, were more likely to die in an accident.

Last year, there were 50 total fatalities. In 2006, there were 35.

Ofsanik says these rates are startling, and that driving slower will reduce the chances of a fatal accident.

Ofsanik also says young people between the ages of 16 to 25 were involved in half of these accidents, probably due to a combination of their inexperience and the preceding trends.

Hokey Patrols Back on the Streets

Pittsburgh Public Works crews are turning their attention to the city’s neighborhood business districts. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl says he will use a half million dollars in state money to launch a three-pronged approach to revitalizing the city’s 50 business districts. Teams will sweep through the districts one at a time, doing everything from cleaning the streets and erecting new signs to writing citations for fire code violations. Brookline Boulevard will be swept first. Ravenstahl says 16 of the city’s business districts will also have one of five so-called hokey-men assigned to them. Hokey-men are armed with a wheeled trashcan, brooms and shovels. The program is called “taking care of business” and will also include consulting help for a select group of districts.

Children's Researches Severe Asthma

A new program at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC aims to find better treatments for severely asthmatic children who do not have a medication that works for them.

It is one of two children's centers in the nation that have this kind of research program. The other is at Emory Hospital in Atlanta.

Dr. Shean Aujla, a pulmonologist at Children's, said there have been few studies on severely asthmatic children. She said it is important because these children end up missing more school and having more visits to the emergency room because of ineffective medications. Sometimes children even die from the condition.

"Most of the studies in severe asthma and what we know about severe asthma are in adults," Dr.Aujla says.

Five to 10 percent of asthmatic children are classified as having severe asthma, Aujla said.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Group Home Legislation Causes Stir

County Councilman James Burn has proposed an ordinance that would require group homes with two or more disabled people to register before accepting residents. The proposed legislation has caused a stir among many advocacy groups because they claim it discriminates against a specific class of citizens by limiting the requirements to only those who are disabled. Councilman Burn says that he will not change or back down from this legislation.

Westmoreland Community College Could Lose Accreditation

Westmoreland County Commissioner Kim Ward has proposed a plan that could end the controversy surrounding Westmoreland County Community College and two of the county's commissioners. Currently, the county commissioners appoint all of the school's trustees. The president of the community college has claimed the commissioners are using that power to politically influence the school. The two commissioners, Tom Balya and Tom Ceraso, denied that, and say the school president is trying to win more power over the school. This unrest has put the college at risk of losing its accreditation. The commissioners must present a plan to reorganize the board by September first, or risk the college losing its accreditation. Ward's plan would give the power of appointment mostly to various authorities rather than the commissioners.

No Timeline for Slots Licenses

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato met with the executive director and top lawyer for the Pennsylvania gaming Control Board Tuesday morning but still do not know when there will be a decision on transferring the Pittsburgh slots licenses from Don Barden to Neil Bluhm. Don Barden’s PITG gaming and Neil Bluhm’s Walton Street Capital Group filed a joint application to transfer the licenses July 9th and filed the final papers Monday. Bluhm says he needs a decision this week or the banks may foreclose on the north shore construction sight. Gaming Control Board Acting Chief Counsel Doug Sherman says the board’s staff is reviewing the documents, and when they are fully vetted, a hearing will be set. Sherman would not put a timeline on the process, but says it will not be compromised for any reason, including a desire by the applicants, elected officials or creditors to expedite the process. Elected officials say they would like to see the process move as quickly as possible to get the facility open soon. If the licenses is revoked and re-bid it could take years compared to weeks to find a new owner.

New Requirements for Internet Payday Lenders

Internet lenders will soon have to be licensed in Pennsylvania in order to do business here. The change comes as a result of a different interpretation of state law. Previously, the Consumer Discount Company Act only required lending companies that were located physically within the Commonwealth to hold a license. Department of Banking spokesman Dan Egan says the move will protect consumers. He says regardless of where a company is based, it should be held to Pennsylvania laws if it serves Pennsylvania residents. The new interpretation, which sets interest rate and fee limits on non-mortgage loans under $25,000, will require lenders to be licensed by February 2009.

Route 30 Designated Highway Safety Corridor

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has designated a 17-mile stretch of Route 30 between Jennerstown and Reels Corner to be a Highway Safety Corridor. It has earned this distinction as a result of high crash rates stemming from aggressive driving. Drivers along this stretch can expect more strict policing and heavier fines if they are caught speeding, driving aggressively, or driving under the influence. PennDOT District 9 Spokesperson Pam Kane says the move is an effort to lower the number of accidents and fatal crashes on the stretch. Since 2002, that area of the highway has been the scene of 15 deaths in a total of 11 fatal crashes.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Groups Support "Advancing America's Priorities Act"

Several groups are calling for Congress to pass the "Advancing America's Priorities Act." The groups are Americans United For Change, The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, The Paralyzed Veterans of America, The Emmett Till Justice Campaign and the Postpartum Support International. The groups have an interest in the legislation because they have bills included in the act. The paralysis groups want to enhance support and medical cooperation in paralysis research, rehabilitation and quality of life programs for people with paralysis. The Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Act would strengthen the ability of the federal government to prosecute unsolved murders from the civil rights era, and the Melanie Blocker Stokes Mothers Act would help mothers who suffer from postpartum depression.

Onorato and Ravenstahl to Meet The Gaming Board

Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato and Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl will meet with the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board Executive Director Tuesday morning. Onorato says his request to the board has not changed. He wants it to find a financially stable owner that can get the facility open as close to on time as possible while living up to all of the commitments made by PITG Gaming. That includes the financial commitments to help build the arena and community development funds along with the "world class" amenities of the casino building itself. Neil Bluhm has said he will live up to all commitments other than the amphitheater and he is ready to take control of the licenses as soon as possible. Onorato says he has heard rumors that other entities are interested in doing the same but he has no hard facts. He says only the gaming control board has that information. He hopes the board will meet publicly this week to talk about its options and a potential time line for approval. He says the sooner it does that the sooner it will win back public confidence. He says whomever gets control of the licenses needs to be fully vetted to make sure they can live up to their promises.

Don't Lose Your Marbles

Allegheny County will be playing host to the 16th annual U.S. Marbles Championship on Saturday, August 2nd and Sunday, August 3rd in North Park. The tournament will be held outside of Middletown, Maryland for the first time in its history. Strong support from from the county played a pivotal role in convincing tournament officials to hold the tournament here. Traditionally, Allegheny County has strong marbles players, winning the under-14 tournaments for the last five years. The tournament will be open to anyone 14 or older.

Obama Campaign Opens Regional Offices

Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, Obama State Director Craig Schirmer and National Deputy Campaign Manager announced the opening of 18 regional campaign offices. Campaign representatives say Obama's work in the primary election will help him in Pennsylvania during the general election. Regarded as the second most important battleground state by Obama's campaign, volunteers and supporters will be trying to register the more than 1 million eligible but as-yet unregistered voters in the state. Rendell says once voters become familiar with Obama's personal story, they will be able to connect to his experiences and that will help the candidate to win the state in November.

Friday, July 25, 2008

"Pump First" Cards Change Gas Purchasing

Altoona-based Sheetz's chain of gas and convenience stores are set to implement a new "Pump First" card system in August to cut down on the number of gas thefts. Cash customers will have to sign up for a card by registering for free with their driver's license information. The card must be swiped like a credit card at the pump in order to be able to fill up. After pumping, customers must then pay inside. Sheetz spokesperson Monica Jones says the program will help prevent drive-offs and help law enforcement officials catch up with those who do because of the cards link to a person's driver's license. Credit card purchases will not be affected. Customers are still able to pay cash without the card, but must pay inside the store prior to filling their tank. Currently the "Pump First" cards are being tested at stores in Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Researcher Presents Findings on Autism

Duquesne University holds its Undergraduate Science Symposium today. Keynote speaker Dr. Scott Faber of the Children's Institute presented his research on causes of autism. Faber says in-utero exposure to heavy metals like mercury and chromium can cause autism to develop. He also says pesticides and pollutants have been linked to the condition. Faber says immediate post-natal screening for symptoms of exposure can deter the disease's onset. Research collaborator and Duquesne University Chemistry Professor Dr. H.M. Kingston says Faber's research has helped lead to major strides in the field of autism treatment.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Pittsburgh's 250 Celebration Far from Over

Pittsburgh's 250th Anniversary celebration will continue through autumn. With events marking the Anniversary such as the Legacy Trail Tour, a bike ride which follows the 335-mile trail that links D.C. to Pittsburgh, the "made in Pittsburgh" food festival on the lawn of Point State Park, and the 250 flotilla, the largest boat parade the city has ever seen, the party indeed rolls on. The celebration will conclude with what George Zambelli, Jr., owner of fireworks display experts Zambelli Internationale, calls "the greatest theatrical pyrotechnical display the city has ever seen" on October 4th. As parts of the 250 celebration, Pittsburgh has already held the final stage of the Tour of Pennsylvania, the Parade of Champions, and the re-opening of Point State Park.

Department of Welfare Stops Western Psych Referrals

Outpatient referrals to Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic have been ceased after a recent string of deaths and serious incidents involving the mentally ill. The temporary moratorium will allow Department of Welfare officials to review the hospital's policies and programs. Because of patient confidentiality issues, the department cannot name the singular events that have led to this inspection of the clinic, but will admit that in the past few months, 6 out of 10 serious incidents involved patients of Western Psych. The most recent investigation began Friday, the day police found the body of Kia Johnson in Andrea Curry-Demus' apartment. Ms. Curry-Demus has been charged with slaying Kia Johnson and cutting her unborn child from her womb. Spokesperson for the Department of Welfare Stacy Witalec says the stoppage of referrals to Western Psych will last 3-4 weeks. Meanwhile, those who would be referred to Western Psych will be sent elsewhere for treatment.

Pittsburgh Public Schools Releases Preliminary PSSA Results

Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Mark Roosevelt released the preliminary results of the 2007-2008 PSSA exams. Compared to the 2006-2007 exams the district is improving. He says the progress is the result of the districts initiatives to raise student achievement. Students made gains in 13 out of 14 areas in terms of moving towards proficiency. The only area in which progress was not seen was in 11th grade reading. The full results of the tests, including a school by school breakdown and whether or not the district has met adequate yearly progress as required by the no child left behind act have not yet been released.

Quecreek Mine Museum Groundbreaking this Saturday

Some will come to learn. Others, for inspiration or hope.

No matter what the reason, Quecreek Mining Rescue almost six years ago will have a museum dedicated to the miraculous event, with the groundbreaking on the sixth anniversary this Saturday.

There will be many picnic-like events following the groundbreaking, and also with some of the Quecreek miners present.

Lori Arnold, vice president of the Quecreek Mine Rescue Foundation, said the museum, just as the rescue, was a blessing. The Foundation has been raising money to have it designed and built for three years, and with donors and the Amish volunteering to build the structure, the ideas are becoming reality.

It will be an "unconventional building," Arnold said, complete with a two-story building with some of the original artifacts from the Fire Hall where family waited, to a simulated Disney-like ride, by taking visitors into a mine.

Phase one of the visitor center plans to be finished this summer, while phase two should be completed by the end of next summer.

For those interested in donating to the cause, the address is:

Quecreek Mine Rescue Foundation
151 Haupt Road
Somerset Pa, 15501

All donations are tax deductible.

Carnegie Mellon University Researchers Study Autism

Research at Carnegie Mellon University suggests the reason people with autism face social struggles is a breakdown in the communication networks in the brain. That breakdown leads to their inability to process social situations as quickly and efficiently as those without autism. A group of researchers conducted a study on a control group and a group of patients with autism. The groups were presented with pictures of geometric shapes that were moving around. The participants had to decide what the shapes were doing. For example, a red triangle was pushing a blue triangle out of a box, when presented with a list of options, "persuasion" was the right answer. While participants were taking the test the researchers were conducting scans of brain activity. The researchers found that a connective network that leads to a part of the brain that process social information was broken down and ineffective in people with autism. These findings a part of a larger research effort into the causes and effects of autism.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

City Council To Hold Post Agenda Meeting On City's Bridges

City Councilman Patrick Dowd has called a post agenda meeting regarding the status of Pittsburgh's bridges. He hopes to learn whose responsibility it is to take care of the bridges because some are state maintained and some are not. He said he also wants to make sure the city is re investing properly in regards to infrastructure maintenance. Invited are representatives of PennDot, the City's Public Works Department, The County Public Works and the Federal Highway Administration.

Director of UPCI announces possible consequence of long-term cell phone use

The director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute and UPMC Cancer center plans to warn approximately 3,000 faculty and staff about the possible health risks associated with cell phone use.

Dr. Ronald Herberman said long-term cell phone use can potentially cause brain cancer.

"The main thing that we're concerned about are the electromagnetic waves," said Dr. Herberman. "There's indication that if you hold a cell phone to your ear that waves penetrate the skull and go into your brain."

Dr. Herberman said he understood how vital cell phones are to many people today, however he advised to limit time on cell phones or keep cell phones away from the ear by using a speaker phone, a head set, or by using text messaging instead.

Although other domestic research organizations such as the American Cancer Society do not acknowledge the effects because there is no definitive link, Dr. Herberman said some research organizations abroad have recently issued similar advisories.

City Council Nixes Vote On Mileage Reimbursment

Pittsburgh City Council tabled proposed legislation that would have re instituted mileage reimbursement. The issue was tabled after multiple council members voiced their opposition to the bill. The legislation if enacted would have been retroactive meaning that council members would have been able to receive reimbursements as far back as March. In March mileage reimbursement was eliminated as a part of Councilman Rickey Burgess' legislation to limit the amount of take home vehicles available to city employee's.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Climate Action Plan Gets Warm Reception

Though Pittsburgh's official city colors might be black and gold, the city may find itself a lot more green in the near future. The Pittsburgh Climate Action Plan, which mandates the implementation of green building strategies and requires the city to lower its output of harmful greenhouse gases by 20% in ten years, received a warm reception by the public and environmental officials at a hearing today. Council members and scientists lauded the proposal. Executive Director of the Green Building Alliance, Rebecca Flora, says that Pittsburgh can only benefit from the plan. More than 20 people spoke at the hearing. The next step is a City Council preliminary vote on the plan on July 30.

GPS suggested for Megan's Law

Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner is urging lawmakers to require the use of global positioning technology to track sex offenders. A recent audit finds the state has lost about 10-percent of all the sexual offenders who are supposed to register their home address under Megan's law. Wagner urged lawmakers to pass legislation that would require all sexually violent offenders to be tracked using GPS for 5 years following their release from prison. Others offenders who have violated Megan’s law in the past would also have to wear the ankle bracelet and GPS device. He says using G-P-S technology will do more than let police track down offenders, it will keep them from committing new crimes. Wagner says the data collected can also be used in the prosecution of crimes. The tracking systems can notify police or victims anytime an offender leaves a so-called inclusion zone or enters and exclusion zone. 33 states already use the technology and at least 27 Pennsylvania counties monitor some parolee’s using GPS.

Energy Prices Subject of Committee Hearing

The Pennsylvania House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee gathered a wide range of experts to talk about looming electric rate increases Tuesday. As rate caps come off, electricity rates in Pennsylvania are expected to jump as much as 60 percent. Members of the state legislature are worried their constituents will not be able to cover those new rates and are looking for a solution. Carnegie Mellon University professor Jay Apt says there is no silver bullet solution. Instead he says they need to go after several solutions including lowering the tax on power, encouraging private power generation and requiring the right kind of alternative energy production. A lawyer for the Electric Power Generation Association suggested that the focus should be on helping customers through the transition not on trying to re-regulate or punish power companies.

Silence The Violence Rally Held At Market Square

Market Square played host to the second annual Silence the Violence rally today. The rally was held last year at Freedom Corner, and has grown significantly since then with the support of the Three Rivers Community Foundation. The rally is unusual because it's organized by kids. City Council members Patrick Dowd and Bruce Kraus were in attendance and former Councilman Sala Udin also spoke. Representatives from various anti-violence groups throughout the city were present. Children presented art work, original poems, spoken word and rap songs that spoke against violence and for peace. Students also made speeches.

Police Station Closing Subject to Public Hearing

Pittsburgh City Council President Doug Shields presented a proposal for public hearing on the location of the Zone 3 Police Station. Councilman Bruce Kraus, who represents the neighborhoods served by that police station, says he also favors a hearing. Kraus says he wants to hear his constituents' concerns about the station directly. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl announced last week that the station would move from its current location on the corner of 17th St. and Mary St. on the South Side to a former youth hostel in Allentown.

Councilman Bill Peduto presented a tentative price for the Pittsburgh Municipal Court Building which is set to be sold to the state. He says the state will pay about $9 million. Few city employees remain in the building since Pittsburgh's magistrate courts were combined with the state court system in 2003.

Monday, July 21, 2008

NRC Chairman Visits Westinghouse

The head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Dale Klein, toured the Westinghouse facility today and met privately with company officials to discuss their work on advanced reactors. Klein says the country's energy needs are changing. The NRC is considering proposals to build nuclear power plants for the first time since the 1970s. The process includes a 30 month review, and site approval. So far, nine applications have been submitted. Three sites have been approved for possible construction, and more applications are expected. Klein says if approved, the first reactor would be ready to produce electricity in 2015. The NRC is working with Westinghouse because the company is building nuclear reactors in China.

Pittsburghers Surrender Car Keys for a Month

Sixteen people are giving up their personal vehicles for a month as part of a nationwide "Low-Car Diet." The carsharing company Zipcar is giving participants a free membership and bus pass. Pittsburgh Councilman Bill Peduto is giving up his Mini Cooper. He says he has his trips for the week already planned out: he's taking Port Authority buses, carpooling with staff members, and he's riding a bicycle on Friday to various meetings around his district. He says he hasn't ridden his bicycle since 1992. The only trip he's still figuring out is from his Point Breeze home to Neville Island, where he plays ice hockey twice a week.

Breen Masciotra has also accepted the challenge. She says she might have to start grocery shopping closer to her Mt. Washington home. Until now, she's mostly shopped at Whole Foods in East Liberty. But she says having Zipcar will help solve one problem: how to bring home a new couch. Her car is too small, but Zipcar has trucks.

Ryan Walsh already rides his bicycle a lot but says having Zipcar will come in handy when he moves in a couple weeks. He also says Zipcar will give him a chance to try out some cars he's never driven before.

Flexcar was the first car-sharing service to begin operating in Pittsburgh. It started in May 2007 with 20 vehicles downtown and in Oakland. Later that year, Flexcar merged with competitor Zipcar. Now the company has 40 vehicles and has expanded to other neighborhoods like Shadyside and the South Side.

Onorato says Ballot Question Illegal

Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato says the petitions being passed around the county calling for a repeal of the poured drink tax would create an illegal ballot question. Onorato says the home rule charter stipulates that the county must have a balanced budget and anytime the budget is amended with either additional spending or revenue cuts an offset increase in revenue or cut in spending must also be enacted. He says the question being circulated by the group “Friends Against Counterproductive Taxation” only removes the tax. It does not propose new revenues or spending cuts. The county council is to review a few ballot questions of its own Tuesday night that are expected to all past legal muster. Onorato says he is not sure if he would launch a legal challenge to the F.A.C.T ballot question if members gather enough signatures but he says he will fight against any ballot question that would force property taxes to be raised.

Onorato instructs Gaming Control Board

Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato has a few demands of the Pennsylvania gaming control board now that the ownership of the north shore slots parlor is in flux. Onorato says he does not want to tell the gaming control board how to do its job but he wants to remind the members that they must thoroughly review the shift in controlling interest from Don Barden’s group to Neil Bluhm’s organization. He says he wants assurances that the new ownership group will be able to get the job done this time and live up to all the commitments made by Barden. Among those commitments is the promise to build a ballroom, amphitheater and river front walk as part of the project. Onorato says the public should be skeptical. Not of the proposed investors but of the control board and the process.

County Council's Democrats Hold Closed Door Meetings

Allegheny County Council's Democratic Caucus says their closed door meetings are not a violation of the states Sunshine Act. Although the meetings make it possible for a quorum to be formed Council President Rich Fitzgerald says no votes have ever been taken and the purpose of the meetings is for informational purposes. He says the meetings give the newer members of council a chance to ask questions that they would be uncomfortable asking in public, and allow the part time legislators to have needed meeting time. He says if a court or legislative body gives a ruling that the meetings should not continue then the council will abide by that and no longer hold the meetings.

Alcoa Develops Low-Emission Buses for Olympics

Alcoa has joined forces with Yutong Bus Company, the largest bus producer in China and 2nd largest in the world, to develop environmentally-friendly prototype buses to use in the Beijing Olympics.

"We do the space frame technology for Ferraris. We do the space frame technology for Aldis. [Workers ask themselves] how could we lend the same space frame technology to the structure of the bus as well as adding other components?" said Kevin Lowery, spokesperson for Alcoa.

However, Lowery says it's much more complicated than taking an old Ferrari space frame and molding it for a bus.

In the end, Yutong and Alcoa designed two buses that are 1.5 tons lighter than a typical bus, creating significantly lower greenhouse emissions.

They are currently being road tested and will be used in the Beijing Olympics next month.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The FCC Is Coming!

The FCC is coming to CMU to hold a public hearing and Panel discussions on the future of broadband and digital media. One of the big issues likely to be discussed is the idea of "Net Neutrality" that is, the idea that no ones internet traffic can take priority over anyone else's. Mark Cavicchia who will sit on the future of digital media panel says without "net Neutrality" the amount of downloadable content can be limited, For example, Time Warner offers high speed downloads but limits the amount of content a user can download in a month.The hearing will also discuss how to increase the accessibility of broadband internet and t.v. access to millions of Americans who can't afford it.

Congressman Altmire Visits Houston Refinery

United States Congressman Jason Altmire visited an oil refinery in Houston, Texas today. He says he wanted to learn more about the challenges they face. He says he learned that because of the increasing price of gas, demand has slowed down and has forced the refinery to work at less than capacity. Altmire says he would like to see more oil being produced from the United States and says Alaska's National Petroleum Reserve is a good option. The DRILL Act, which would have accelerated development there, was voted down yesterday. House Republicans favor a proposal to drill off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

County Council Could Have Multiple Referendums On Novembers Ballot

Allegheny County may see multiple referendum questions on this years ballot all revolving around the same issue, the port authority and the controversial drink and car rental taxes county council's committee on government reform has approved two bills that would put referendums on the November ballot. One calls for the reduction of the drink tax from 10% to .5%, and the car rental tax to be reduced from $2 dollars to 50 cents a day. The second bill sponsored by councilman Chuck McCullough calls for the elimination of the port authority, and the privatization of mass transit. McCullough says that move would bring much revenue to the county because the current land owned by the port authority is worth $1 billion and is not taxable, but would be if privatized. Council president Rich Fitzgerald is also proposing a bill that would require a raise in property taxes as a result of any reduction in the drink and car rental taxes. Council will discuss those bills during a special meeting Tuesday.

Representative Mike Turzai introduces new gaming legislation

Representative Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) has introduced legislation to help bring integrity, honesty and accountability to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board's (PGCB) awarding of gaming licenses taking over licenses, if need be.

"Whats the remedy when someone you gave a license to proves to be unsuitable?" Turzai asked a former New Jersey gaming regulator. "[He] said a trusteeship was the remedy most often used in New Jersey."

Turzai added this was something that is simply putting language into law. It has been done in the state before, but it is not a regulated law.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Bureau of Building Inspection Under Review

Pittsburgh's Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority (ICA) announced that a review of the Bureau of Building Inspection (BBI) by TriData is currently underway. Two reports on the Fire and EMS bureaus, have already been completed. TriData's BBI report is set to be finished by the end of this month or the beginning of August. ICA Executive Director Henry Sciortino says the reports will be useful for determining the most efficient means of providing public safety services. The BBI review was commissioned on June 6, and TriData has been reviewing the group since July 1.

3 Rivers Wet Weather Gets 2 Million Dollar Grant

The State Department of Environmental Protection announced the awarding of a $2 million grant to 3 Rivers Wet Weather inc. for research into the regionalization of municipal sewage collection systems. The research will be guided by the efforts made by Franklin park and McCandles who worked to combine their sewage treatment efforts. This research is a smaller part of the efforts being made for ALCOSAN to meet the requirements of a consent decree. 3 Rivers Wet Weather inc. has already done work on mapping out the regions sewer lines and this is the next step in their efforts to assist ALCOSAN meet the consent decree.

State System Tuition Rises 3.5%

The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education's (PASSHE) Board of Governors today voted to increase tuition $181, or 3.5% for the 2008/2009 academic year. That pushes the new annual tuition rate for a full-time, resident, undergraduate student to $5,358. Students who live on campus during the 2008/2009 school year will pay a total of around $13,000, including tuition, fees, and room and board. The tuition increase comes in a year when there has already been a reduction in state-issued financial aid. PASSHE spokesman Kenn Marshall says the tuition increase is still less than the 5% rate of inflation, and that PASSHE will work with students who are burdened financially.

New PNC Account to Attract Gen Y

PNC banking has begun offering a new type of bank account called "Virtual Wallet" aimed at meeting the banking needs of Generation Y, a group of twenty-somethings born between 1980 and 1994. The online account, which can be started with only $25, offers ease in transferring money from one account to another, has no monthly service fees or minimum balance, and provides a calendar which notifies the holder of impending bill payments. PNC Vice President for E-Business Michael Ley says the account was designed to fit the needs and mindset of the Generation Y demographic. An account can be opened at any PNC branch in Western Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, or online.

Energy Companies Give LIHEAP Testimony

At a public hearing held by the Department of Public welfare, representatives from a number of energy companies, including Columbia Gas, Dominion Peoples, Duquesne Light and Equitable Gas testified that the DPW needed to amend their LIHEAP guidelines to better serve their clients. Complaints included DPW's insistence on extensive documentation to prove a financial need for the program and to demonstrate a household energy crisis. Speakers pointed out that the State Assembly had passed a law stipulating that a crisis is proven when a household receives a service termination notice, while the DPW continues to demand other proof as well. The energy companies also expressed dismay that the DPW had decided on short notice to end their crisis program on March 21st this year, despite the fact that they had 900 million dollars left in the fund and customers were still in need of aid. The utility companies and the nonprofit Dollar Energy requested that the crisis program be allowed to continue into April, and that LIHEAP begin service in October rather than November.

States Video Conferencing Technology To Expand

The Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts has announced they are launching a $2.8 million campaign to expand the use of video conferencing technology within the states magisterial district courts. The improved technology will allow judges to arraign defendants with the defendant not needing to be escorted from the central booking center to the court therefore saving money on transportation costs and increasing safety for court and law enforcement employee's. The video conferencing technology is estimated to save Lancaster County approximately $115,000.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Money to be Sought if Steeler Ownership Changes Hands

As many Pittsburghers are aware, the Rooneys, who own the Steelers, are forced to sell ownership to comply with NFL gambling regulations and are considering a sale to Pittsburgh fan and Wall Street tycoon Stanley Druckenmiller. Allegheny County Controller Mark Flaherty sent a letter Tuesday to the Rooneys telling them that any sale of Steeler ownership to anyone outside of the Rooney family "would result in a demand to return a proportionate share of the $281 million" (public funds used to build Heinz Field). He says it would be unjust for the Steelers franchise to profit from public funds invested into a new stadium. In 1998, the Steelers franchise was valued at $300 million. Heinz Field opened in 2001. Current estimates of the Steelers' value have recently been raised as high as $1.2 billion.

Residents Beware: Air Quality Action Day in Effect

The Allegheny County Health Department has declared today an Air Quality Action Day Code Orange for Ozone. This warning is the result of high temperatures and humidity coupled with high pollution levels. ACHD spokesman Guillermo Cole says that on hot, humid summer days, nitrogen oxide gas meets with hydrocarbons that have been released through pollution, and forms ozone. Ozone has been found to cause respiratory problems in the elderly, pregnant women, and those with respiratory diseases. The ACHD advises people to limit outdoor strenuous activity during the peak hours of summer heat. Cole also said that people can help prevent the formation of ozone by limiting driving, refueling, grass cutting, and power usage on these days. Cole also predicts that because of the weather forecast, the region will likely remain under the Air Quality Action Day Code Orange until at least Friday.

Turnpike Project On Time And On Budget

The Allegheny River Bridge Replacement Project is on time and on budget. Turnpike CEO Joe Brimmeier says the twin bridges will be done on time in the summer of 2010. The twin bridges will be replacing a steel truss bridge that currently carries the turnpike traffic across the Allegheny river. The twin bridges will each have three lanes of traffic and are a part of a total reconstruction of the turnpike. The bridges are a $190 million project. The two bridges will make routine maintenance easier because if a bridge needs work it can be closed down and traffic can be transferred to the other bridge.

Sustainable Pittsburgh Holding Event

On Thursday July 17th Sustainable Pittsburgh will be holding an event aimed at showcasing local entrepreneurs, markets and sustainable practices. It is a Champions of Sustainability event, which is a program of Sustainable Pittsburgh. There will be a panel discussion with panelists experienced in local produce production, sustainable energy production and community health. The goal of the program is to emphasize community and sustainable practices that change little regardless of world markets. The event is from 5:30 - 8:30pm and costs 25 dollars. To register for the event visit

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

City Looking To Refinance

The city of Pittsburgh is planning on refinancing it's debt. The city's next debt payment is due September 1st. The city wants to refinance before September 1st because the current interest rate will result in 3 million dollars in savings. The city is hiring Fairmount Capital Advisers to guide it through the process. There is a point of contention with the choice of Fairmount. The Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority which oversees the city's financial progress was sued by Fairmount after the ICA's current Executive Director left Fairmount and reportedly took some of the company's business with him. The city's finance director says he doesn't believe the ICA has the authority to tell the city who it can and can not hire in this case. If the city does not refinance its debt by September 1st then the interest rate could end up being higher than it currently is and would result in less savings for the city.

County Council Considers Own Referendum

Allegheny County Council tonight will hold a special public meeting to determine the legitimacy of adding their own drink tax referendum to the November ballot. Council President Rich Fitzgerald says tonight's meeting will "codify" council's ability to enact a referendum via ordinance and that he doubts a motion will be made to add a referendum tonight. A referendum would give voters the opportunity to choose between the 10 percent drink tax or a raise in property tax.

No more bottled water at Phipps Conservatory

In an effort to be more eco-conscious, Phipps Conservatory is eliminating the sale of bottled water there.

Richard Piacentini, Executive Director of Phipps, says the conservatory initially eliminated bottled water from internal meetings.

"Instead we encouraged people to use filtered water and fill up pitchers and do it the old fashioned way," Piacentini said. "Our staff and people who came to our events accepted that very well. So this year we decided to go all the way and eliminate bottled water from all our facilities."

Reusable plastic bottles will be sold at Phipps in place of disposible ones. Piancetini said he believes the reduced pollution from fewer plastic bottles is more important than the revenue they may lose from the sale.

Leetsdale Borough Receives $5.9 Million Loan

In 2004 the Leetsdale Borough Municipal Authority received a decree by the Environmental Protection Agency to change its waste water treatment system so it can eliminate overflows into the Ohio River. On Monday July 14th the borough received a $5.9 million loan to make those improvements. The project isn't expected to start until January of 2009, with bids for service starting in October of 2008. The project is estimated to take a year and a half to complete. The $5.9 million is a part of the PENNVEST board of directors' approval of $63.8 million worth of low interest loans and grants that will help fund multiple drinking water and waste water treatment projects throughout the state.

Mayor Wants a Meeting on Casino Issues

Pittsburgh mayor Luke Ravenstahl says he is holding off on making any decisions regarding the Majestic Star Casino until he has a chance to sit down with the Gaming Control Board, the new majority stakeholders in the casino and County Chief Executive Dan Onorato to discuss the issues. Ravenstahl did say that he cannot imagine putting the casino anywhere other than the current location on the North Shore. He also stipulated that whomever takes over the development would have to live up the obligations to the city agreed upon with the former head investor Don Barden--including financial help with the new Penguins' hockey arena and money for community groups and development. The mayor cautioned that because the Gaming Control Board had already made a big mistake by approving Barden's proposal the first time around, he was reticent to rush into another poor decision by the board.

Hekima Place for AIDS Orphans in Kenya

Kate Fletcher taught sociology at Duquesne University for twenty years and lived in Mt. Lebanon. Now she runs Hekima Place, a home for girls orphaned by the AIDS epidemic in Kenya, where the World Health Organization estimates one in twenty people is infected. She spoke to DUQ's Charlee Song on her annual fund-raising visit. Listen to the full-length story here.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Bill Now Mandates Expanded Newborn Testing

House Bill 883, also known as the Newborn Testing Act, signed into law on July 9th, now requires that newborns be screened for 22 genetic disorders as compared to previously requiring only 6. Chairman of Obstetrics and Gynecology at UPMC Magee Women's Hospital geneticist Allen Hogge says that the measure will have little effect on Pennsylvania hospitals as nearly all institutions already screened for those diseases as part of a supplemental screening program. He did say that a benefit of the legislation could be that it will aid in coordination of screenings and that the bill will help catch Pennsylvania up with other states that have already enacted similar legislation. Newborn screenings are administered by a heel prick, which collects blood that is then sent to a lab for analysis.

Report: City Garbage Collection Cost an Unfair Price

A report released by the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy shows an inexplicable disparity between the price of garbage removal in the city of Pittsburgh, the price at which the city provides the service for Wilkinsburg, and the actual cost of garbage removal. The report indicates that through taxes, Pittsburgh city residents pay $202 per year for garbage removal while Wilkinsburg residents pay only $120. Therefore, in effect, city residents subsidize garbage removal in Wilkinsburg. Policy Analyst Eric Montarti questioned the disparity and the intentions behind it. He says that the city has shown an interest expanding its garbage removal services to other municipalities and could be using the low cost of Wilkinsburg to demonstrate its efficiency. He also said that he would like to see a cost accounting of garbage removal. The City Department of Refuse could not be reached for comment.

Some Lawmakers Want Casino License Revoked

Don Barden's license for the Pittsburgh casino should be revoked, say some state lawmakers. State Senators Jane Orie and Jim Ferlo have written to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, asking that it take the license away, since Barden now wants to own just a minority interest in the casino. Orie says the change in primary ownership would mean that Barden is not fulfilling the conditions under which the license was awarded.

Barden has asked that Walton Street Capital be allowed to take over as primary owner of the casino. One of its founders, Neil Bluhm, already has a stake in three other casinos.

Orie says because of Barden's history of financial troubles, the license never should have been awarded to him. And she says she's frustrated that documents relating to the potential change in ownership have been kept secret. Orie also says she has heard that if Barden is unable to fulfill his obligation to help fund the new Penguins arena, state taxpayers would be forced to pick up the tab. But she says that information has also been kept from lawmakers. She has written to the Sports and Exhibition Authority asking for details.

Transplant Games... continued

An audience of transplant donors, recipients, and their family and friends cheerfully watch athletes play badminton as a part of the U.S. Transplant Games held at the David Lawrence Convention Center.

One family from Chicago suffers from a genetic kidney disease called Polycystic Kidneys (PKD), are all watching a family member play from the bleachers.

"This is our family vacation now," Joanne Vianueva said. "We're all here just for the fun of it, and to repay donors... Donor families saved my mother's life and my sister's life."

For Joanne, it was one of her sisters who did not develop the PKD that saved her life.

You cry a lot when you're here, she added. All of the participants who are playing the games would not have survived had they not found an organ.

There are various events of the U.S. Transplant Games being held in the Pittsburgh area through Wednesday night.

Westmoreland to Add Water Alert System

The Westmoreland County Municipal Authority will install a new alert system so when an issue arises with drinking water, the authority can promptly pour out notification calls. New requirements mandate that all water providers maintain a public notification system to be used in the event of water contamination. The system to be installed in Westmoreland County will be capable of making 3000 phone calls per hour and will be able to reach customers via home phone, cell phone, and/or text message. Authority Operations Manager of Production John Ashton says the system will cost about $100,000 and since the requirement is what he called and "unfunded mandate," it must be paid for out of the rate base. Though, the notification system is not required to be operational until December 2009, it should be running by April.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Rendell Signs Development-Incentive Legislation

Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell signed into law Thursday a bill that increases incentives for redevelopment of underused land and old industrial sites. The law extends and expands tax abatement on these lands which are called Keystone Opportunity Zones (KOZ). KOZ lands are designed by communities and require approval on the state, county, and local level. The new law allows for the creation of 15 more KOZs, expansion of existing ones, and extends the expiration date of those unoccupied by 7-10 years. Department of Community and Economic Development spokesman Steven Weitzman says the KOZs encourage developers to develop quickly in areas where development is much needed. He also says that the benefits of development in these areas exteneds beyond their given boundaries to their surrounding areas, as well. There are currently 12 Keystone Opportunity Zones throughout the state.

Peduto Surprised By Charges Against Former Aide

Pittsburgh Councilman Bill Peduto says he was surprised to see how many state legislative staff members were indicted in the so-called Bonusgate scandal. Peduto says he thought the state Attorney General's probe would focus more on elected officials rather than staff members who were "just following orders." Among those staff members is Patrick "P.J." Lavelle, who once worked in Peduto's council office and ran his 2005 mayoral campaign. More recently, Lavelle worked in the office of former House Democratic Whip Mike Veon of Beaver Falls, who faces the most charges in yesterday's indictment.

Peduto says Lavelle has remained a friend. They have not spoken since the indictment, but Peduto has e-mailed him and advised him to find the best lawyer he can. He says people who know Lavelle know he's a good person.

Peduto also says he disagrees with the characterization of Lavelle's job in the grand jury indictment. Former co-workers say his job appeared to be completely political in nature. Peduto says he often spoke with Lavelle when he was looking for help or just an update about what was going on the General Assembly, especially around budget time.

Controversy Arises Over Another Downtown Sign

Another downtown sign is generating controversy. At 960 Penn Avenue, a 1,000 square foot Rolling Rock sign was painted on the side of a building without any hearings or votes from the Historic Review Commission. Members of the Penn-Liberty Local Review Commission say the sign does not comply with multiple regulations in place for historic districts. The Commission has been trying for six months to have the sign removed. The Post-Gazette is reporting the sign was discussed at a dinner meeting between former city planning director Pat Ford, and executives of Liberty Pacific Media and Capitol outdoor inc. with Mayor Ravenstahl stopping in. The issue is currently stuck in the city's Law Department. City Solicitor George Specter says an answer on this problem could come as early as next week.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

"Bonusgate" Suspects Indicted

After a 17-month probe, 10 Democratic House employees and two legislators including former Whip Mike Veon and current state Representative Sean Ramaley face criminal charges. The accused allegedly arranged for bonuses to be paid to staffers and volunteers in return for campaigning.

Representative Ramaley stands accused of holding a paid office requiring no work under Veon while Ramaley ran for office in 2004.

Veon, meanwhile, is allegedly the man behind the bonuses.

The grand jury found that in 2004, Veon and Rachel Manzo, executive director of the House Democratic Policy Committee, instructed House Democratic Caucus employee Eric Webb to classify and monitor the campaign efforts of party staffers. Webb, who testified under immunity, said that it was clearly understood by employees that campaign work was a mandatory part of their public employment. A total of $188,800 of taxpayer funds was given in bonuses in 2004.

Webb testified that in 2005 he continued to track the campaign efforts of Democratic employees. He categorized campaign efforts into "rockstar," "good," and "ok." These ratings determined which staffers received the taxpayer bonuses and how much. More than $167,500 was given in bonuses over the course of that year.

At this point, staff members had grown aware that bonuses were linked to campaign work. One House staffer testified that he and two other employees volunteered for campaign work in Allentown and brought their fishing gear. After arriving in Allentown and receiving their assignment, they promptly went to breakfast, and went fishing. Two weeks later, the employees all received $250 bonuses for their services. The employee stated that "we joked when we got the bonuses--we're not idiots--we figured out what it was for, we all joked that we are professional fishermen now."

2006 proved to be the largest year for the issuance of bonuses. Because of the 2006 pay raise vote and the fact that both democrats--now House Democratic Leader Bill DeWeese and Mike Veon--would face legitimate challengers in elections that year, campaign efforts soared and along with them: bonuses. A total of $1,285,250 was handed out that year.

Along with the bonuses, the grand jury also found that Veon was running an illegal campaign out of his office by utilizing materials and resources for promotion. There is also an alleged instance of Veon paying staffers to assist him on vacation and the supposed misuse of taxpayer funds to pay for dinners after pick-up basketball games totaling over $22,000.

Veon faces 59 counts including charges of conflict of interest, theft by unlawful taking, and criminal conspiracy and could face up to 381 years in prison if convicted on all offenses.

Representative Ramaley faces 6 counts with a possible 40 year sentence.

All 12 defendants are scheduled for arraignment tomorrow.

URA Approves signing of CBA for hill district

The Urban Redevelopment Authority today voted to support the Community Benefits Agreement between Hill District residents and the city of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County and the Penguins. The CBA has yet to be signed by any party involved, but the URA's vote now puts pressure on them to sign. URA board chair Yarone Zober says he believes all parties involved will sign within a "month or so." The URA has agreed to help the One Hill Coalition in its development of a master plan, commit $1 million to a grocery store to be developed in the Hill, and to help in the construction of a planned YMCA.

2008 U.S. Transplant Games to be held in Pittsburgh

Local teen Sam Scholl excels in athletics, and plans to show off her skills at the Convention Center this weekend. While she insists she lives as a normal teenager, she is a heart transplant recipient who wants others to learn about organ transplants.

The biannual U.S. Transplant Games, presented by the National Kidney Foundation, is an Olympic-style competition that features transplant recipients competing in sporting events.

It makes its debut here in Pittsburgh this Saturday.

Local Nikki McKenna, 29, received a kidney ten years ago when her father donated one of his. She has participated in the Games since 2000, and she thinks participating is incredibly rewarding.

"I was so sick before I had my transplant that I didn't think I would be able to play sports again or do things like this. Sports was such a big part of my life before I had my transplant," McKenna said.

She is particularly excited to participate in the games in her hometown. So is 16-year-old Sam.

"I'm having a lot of my friends come, and they don't know about organ transplantation... I'm having them come just to witness the experience," Scholl said.

It is the first time Pittsburgh has held such an event. This weekend is expected to draw its biggest crowd yet since its start in 1990.

More than 1,300 organ transplant recipients, 300 donor families, and over 100 living donors nationwide are expected to attend the Games. They plan to demonstrate the success of transplantation while calling attention to the critical need for more organ donors. 125 of those recipients are from Pittsburgh alone, according to Maggie Pratt, co-manager of Team Pittsburgh.

Opening ceremonies commence on Saturday, July 12th, at the David Lawrence Convention Center, and the competition will last through July 16th.

Robots invade Pittsburgh

To help celebrate Pittsburgh’s 250th anniversary Carnegie Mellon University has teamed up with several community groups to spread robots all over town in a project titled “Robot 250.” The project began several months ago by giving kids craft supplies and state of the art technology and then asking them to create something that reflected what they liked or did not like about the city. Those robots will be on display at the Carnegie Science Center, the Mattress Factory and the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum July 11- 27. Local artists also created 11 so-called “big bots” that are spread throughout town. The group that envisioned robot 250 has been given a grant by the National Science Foundation to devise a similar program to bring robot technology to urban children in other cities. All of the Robot 250 sites can be found at

Chatham University Outlines Expansion

With two recent acquisitions Shadyside based Chatham University now has one of the biggest campuses in the region. A far cry from the 1980's when the university (then a college) struggled with enrollment and finances, Chatham recently purchased 388 acre Eden Hall Farm in Richland Township. It also bought a building in East Liberty to house offices and classrooms to make room on the overcrowded campus for more classrooms.

Chatham board of trustees president Murray Rust says they are planning to turn the farmland into a second Chatham campus with a focus on environmental studies and education, and with easier access for North Hills community residents. He says Chatham is determined to keep a low student to professor ratio to ensure that they do not lose sight of their core values during this period of expansion.

Bill would reimburse volunteer fire and EMS services

U.S. Congressman Jason Altmire and U.S. Senator Bob Casey Have introduced similar legislation to their respective legislative bodies. Their bills are know as the SAVES act or The Supporting America's Volunteer Emergency Services Act. The bill would provide volunteer fire and EMS agency's with a reimbursement of %75 of the difference between what they spend on gas as compared to what they would have spent in 2007. 2007 will be the base year price that will determine the amount of reimbursement the volunteer organizations will get. The two bills are identical except for one part. The two politicians could not agree on where the funding should come from. Senator Casey wants the bill to be operated out of Housing and Urban Development or HUD, and Congressman Altmire wants the bill to go to FEMA. Congressman Altmire says he does not see this bill failing to pass because many politicians from across the country have constituents whose only emergency response services are volunteer services.

State gives $800 million for flood and sewage related projects

As a part of Pennsylvania's 2008-2009 budget $800 million is being allocated to the Department of Environmental Protection for various flood control, sewage control and critical water infrastructure projects. $100 million is earmarked for flood control projects in flood prone areas of the state. Millvale's Girdy's run qualifies for that project because of the delayed drudging efforts. $665 million is being made available for certain storm water projects and water and waste water facilities. ALCOSAN's efforts to comply with a consent decree will be able to qualify for up to $20 million in a grant. The remaining $35 million will be for unsafe, high hazard dam projects. This money doubles what the DEP received last year, and all money available will be awarded as a grant.

Zoo Welcomes Baby Elephant, Expects Another Soon

For the first in seven years a baby elephant has been born at the Pittsburgh Zoo. Mother "Nan" gave birth to the female calf Wednesday after a gestation period of nearly two years. Zoo staff are monitoring the calf and mother using a video camera and expect to introduce the baby to the rest of the herd once she learns to walk. Another elephant named Moja is also expected to give birth within days. Both mothers were inseminated by bull elephant Jackson, who has sirred a number of elephants around the country. Pittsburgh Zoo president Barbara Baker says although the mother and baby are doing well, these are critical weeks for the calf's survival. The calf could be available for the public to see as early as this weekend.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Children with Disabilities to Get Ballpark

Southwestern Pennsylvania will have its first baseball field designed for children with special needs. The Pittsburgh Pirates charity group has donated $200,000 for the construction of a baseball field made of a synthetic surface that will make it possible for special needs children to play organized baseball. The new ballfield will be located in Cranberry, and will be safe for children who are wheelchair bound or require walkers. The park will be fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Pirates second baseman Freddy Sanchez contributed $50,000 to the construction of the ballfield and met many of the children who will participate in the league next year. The park is tentatively scheduled to open next May.

Art Projects Mark Pittsburgh's 250th

A 20-foot-tall creature composed of bridge parts will be among the signature art projects in Pittsburgh's 250th birthday celebration. The steel and fiberglass sculpture is named "ARCH." It will have parts resembling all Pittsburgh bridges that span the three rivers. ARCH will go up at the corner of Fort Duquesne Boulevard and 7th Street in late August and remain there for six months.

ARCH is one of four art projects that are getting a total of $1 million from the Heinz Endowments. Another project is a work commissioned for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and Mendelssohn Choir called "The Good Life," which is based around the theme of Pittsburgh's immigrant history and the many voices and languages associated with it. The work will be performed in October.

Also receiving funding are a program that matches artist mentors with Pittsburgh teenagers, and a printmaking project based around the theme of what would happen if established scientific fact turned out to be wrong. Tom Sokolowski, Director of the Andy Warhol Museum and the leader of the 250th Anniversary Arts Project, says he came up with the idea as he looked at significant events from 250 years ago. Among them was the discovery that Halley's Comet kept a regular schedule. He says he began to wonder what would happen today if Halley's Comet suddenly came on a different year... or water boiled at a different temperature... or if an hour suddenly only had 30 minutes.

CAPA to merge middle and high schools

The Pittsburgh School Board reviewed plans to consolidate Pittsburgh CAPA (Creative and Performing Arts) High School with Rogers CAPA 6-8 into a single building at a committee meeting last night.

Derrick Lopez, Chief of High School Reform of Pittsburgh, said the merger has many benefits.

"We've been committed to one vision... to create a system of school options that offer high quality and academically rigorous programs and promote high student achievement in the most equitable and cost-effective manner," Lopez said.

Having the current CAPA High School building with Rogers CAPA saves money because it skips the step of building more classrooms and studios elsewhere. Lopez said expanding the current high school building also builds a stronger bond and foundation from students to faculty.

Should the school board pass the proposal, the merged school will take effect in the 2009-10 school year.

Race and Prisoner Reintegration Topics at Pitt's Center on Race and Social Problems

Race and prison re-entry were the topics of today's Summer Institute at Pitt's Center on Race and Social Problems. Professor of Public Policy Steven Raphael from the University of California, Berkeley says incarceration rates have increased dramatically over the last 35 years, mostly because of longer sentences and more offenses leading to jail time, and those people impacted most are relatively uneducated African American males.

When released, many men face a crushing burden of arrears in child support that have mounted up while they were in prison. Raphael says re-entry planning in the areas of addiction, housing and employment can increase success for men facing many obstacles to "going straight". He recommends allowing ex-convicts to receive Pell grants and public housing.

Some public policies yield results years after resources are invested, e.g., early childhood education, like Head Start, decreases the likelihood a child will break the law as an adult.

Three more summer institutes will be presented at Pitt.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Anti-violence Coalition Meets at Duquesne University

The Coalition Against Violence sponsored an event at Duquesne University to present strategies to reduce the violence that plagues many Pittsburgh communities. Coalition members say it takes more than just a few community groups to end the violence, and provided strategies that were developed over a year-long effort. They offered recommendations to various facets of the community, from faith-based groups to the media, to young athletes, on steps they can take to eliminate violence. Speakers say it will take a combined effort for this to be different from other non-violence rallies and meetings where there is much talk and little action.

New Court Docket Targets School Violence

The Allegheny County District Attorney's Office has created a new docket that is specifically designed to handle school violence. Stephen A. Zappala Jr. says the docket was created after Woodland Hills school officials made him aware of their problems with school violence. The Pittsburgh Public School District has its own problems: the number of aggravated assaults on teachers has been rising. The newly created docket will present cases two times a month in front of a specially-designated judge. The system is aimed at curbing violence by making the punishment more severe and swift. The program also calls for an anti-bullying campaign that targets elementary school children and cyber-bullying.

Highmark Merger Has Hearing in Pittsburgh

A hearing in Pittsburgh today will help the Pennsylvania Insurance Department decide whether Highmark should be allowed to merge with Independence Blue Cross in Philadelphia. The head of Highmark, Ken Melani, told the Insurance Commissioner that the two companies are a perfect fit because they do not share markets, have the a divergence of expertise and can find one billion dollars in savings in the first six years. He says the savings can be used to improve products offered to consumers. Consultants hired by the company say those are real savings found in bottom up audits of the two non-profit insurance providers, not just studies of similar mergers.

Detractors say while the two providers may not be in direct competition today, that does not mean they would not enter each other’s markets if the merger was denied. Opponents also fear the merger would have a chilling effect on other companies looking to compete in the market.

Melani says Highmark has no desire to enter into the Philly market because it would be too expensive, and the effort would probably fail. Commissioner Joel Ario voiced concerns over the 1 billion dollar projection, wondering of any of that money could be saved through better management of the two existing companies. He also wants to look at the amount of “surplus” the combined company would keep.

Health Department Offers Free Immunizations

The Allegheny County Health Department will be offering a free immunization clinic tomorrow, July 9, from 1 to 7 p.m. at its office on Forbes Avenue in Oakland. Parents can bring in their children to receive all of the vaccinations required to enter kindergarten through 12th grade. Some school immunization requirements are more strict this year. ACHD spokesman Dave Zazac says the new rules require meningitis and tetanus/diphtheria/pertussis vaccinations in grades 7 through 12 and an extra dose of mumps and chickenpox vaccinations in kindergarten through 12. Parents can stop by the clinic without an appointment, but must accompany their children and have immunization records with them.

New Campaign Attempts to Spotlight Health Care

Health Care for America Now has announced a $40 million campaign to bring the issue of health care into the spotlight for the upcoming election. Several groups are involved including, the AFL-CIO, the SEIU, Americans United for Change, and the Association of Community Organization for Reform Now, or ACORN. The groups say they are participating in the nationwide non-partisan effort because they believe health care reform is the number one issue in the next election and want the candidates to address it.

Onorato Announces New 78-Acre Park

Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato announced plans for a 78-acre sports complex to be built at the junction of Coraopolis, Moon Twp., and Robinson Twp. The complex will likely have 10 to 15 athletic fields for sports such as lacrosse, field hockey, and soccer. Plans also include a 1 mile extension of the Montour Trail. Land for the complex was donated to the Redevelopment Authority of Allegheny County by the Sports Legacy Foundation. Onorato says construction will begin after the county has raised sufficient funds for the project. He also believes that it will be easy to raise money for the new park through grants and private donations. The county is in the process of finishing clean up on the vacant brownfield and re-zoning the area.

Vintage Car Race Honors Cope

This year's Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix will include a tribute to one of its founders, Myron Cope. The Steelers broadcaster died earlier this year. He helped race organizers secure the permissions they needed from the city of Pittsburgh. It was also at his urging that proceeds from the race be donated to the Allegheny Valley School and the Autism Society of Pittsburgh. Cope's son, Danny, is autistic.

In tribute to Cope, several Steelers will be part of the race's Opening Ceremony this year. Fans are being asked to bring Terrible Towels and wave them in Cope's memory.

Races will be held in Schenley Park on July 19 and 20th. But other events like car shows and a downtown parade will take place in the days leading up to the races. A full list of activities is available on the organization's website.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Pittsburgh's "Green Plan" gets attention

The writers of the Pittsburgh Climate Action Plan went before City Council Monday in an effort to build support and explain the process. The report outlines a long list of ideas that could be implemented in the city to help reduce not only the government’s carbon footprint but also the carbon footprint of every city resident. Rebecca Flora of the Green Building Alliance says that broad focus makes the action plan different from any she has read worldwide. PennFuture spokesperson Jeanne Clark says it is important that the proposals be prioritized and that some quick and easy projects be launched first. Among them could be improving recycling rates. Council members expressed a desire that proposals that will result in immediate cost savings be highlighted and that grants be found to help cover up front costs. The report will be the subject of a public hearing Tuesday July 22. Clark says city employees and all city residents will have to be educated about the green plan and encouraged to put it in place. She says that task will be much easier today than it was a few years ago because global warming and high energy prices have gotten so much attention.

Mine Safety Overhaul is Signed Into Law

Governor Ed Rendell is signing a new mining law today. It's considered to be the most comprehensive overhaul of state mining regulations in almost 50 years. Rendell says Pennsylvania law currently does not reflect technological advances in the mining industry. The legislation includes a new Mine Safety Board, which will have the power to create new regulations without the governor's or General Assembly's approval. The law also holds mine owners more accountable for accidents.

Rendell Signs Bridge Repair Legislation

Legislation that increases state funding for bridge repairs now has Governor Ed Rendell's signature. Rebuild Pennsylvania includes 350 million dollars for repairs to 411 structurally-deficient bridges. Allegheny County has 30 of those bridges, the most of any county in the state. Bridges that carry the Parkway East over Rodi Road, Thompson Run and Business Route 22 are among those that will be fixed.

Rendell says when he took office, Pennsylvania had about 5500 structurally-deficient bridges--the most in the country. Pennsylvania also has the oldest bridges in the country.

Rendell says he's been criticized for borrowing money for his initiatives. He says it's not "borrowing," it's "investing." And he says he doubts anyone near the bridge that collapsed in Minnesota would argue against borrowing money to make sure bridges are safe. He also says fixing bridges is vital for a strong economy. And he says the repairs will create jobs.

A full list of the bridges that will be fixed is available on PennDot's website. Click on the link for "Rebuild PA Bridges."

Allegheny County Launches Videoconferencing for Children's Court

Allegheny County Family Court Administrative Judge Kim Berkeley Clark and Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato today announced a pilot program at eight sites where children can participate in legal proceedings without being in a courtroom. Incarcerated parents of children with issues in the courts could also use the system, as well as expert witnesses. A public-private partnership acquired the technology: Child Watch of Pittsburgh, Children's Court, the Allegheny County Department of Human Services, and other community organizations.

Full implementation of the program will include 36 locations in courts, CYF offices, hospitals, mental health offices, and jails.

The system is expected to save time and money, but the main benefit will be to reduce the trauma of children who must testify in front of adults who may have abused or neglected them.

New Hilton Garden Inn Downtown

Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato and Kratsa Properties presented designs this morning for the latest downtown hotel on the former site of the County Jail Annex.

Onorato says the county made money on the sale of the half-acre lot, which Kratsa bought last December for its appraised value of $1.55 million, and it will go back on the tax rolls with no public subsidy for construction.

Kratsa Properties has built a number of hotels in the region, including the South Side's Holiday Inn Express on 10th Street and the Spring Hill Marriott on the North Shore. This is their first Hilton project, which they think will get a lot of business from the court buildings and offices in the area. Construction on the six-story, 156-all suite hotel will cost $25 million and take about a year. Groundbreaking may be in November or December if necessary approvals come through.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

ALCOSAN doesn't mind being audited

ALCOSAN sees an upcoming audit as a "cooperative venture to explore fresh ideas," according to spokeswoman Nancy Barylak. ALCOSAN has already met with city and county auditors regarding a consent agreement that requires improvements to its sewage treatment facilities. During periods of wet weather, waste often flows directly into local waterways due to the region's combined sewer system. ALCOSAN has to have a comprehensive plan by 2012 and will use the audit as a guide for finding cost-effective solutions. Barylak says compliance with the consent decree will require rate increases for ALCOSAN consumers because no state or federal money is helping to pay for what's expected to be a multi-billion dollar project.

City and County Controllers Audit ALCOSAN

Allegheny County Controller Mark Flaherty and his counterpart in Pittsburgh, Michael Lamb, have announced a joint audit of the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority. ALCOSAN is under a consent decree that requires it to comply with new environmental standards. Upgrading the region's sewer system is expected to cost several billion dollars. The controllers say they want to ensure that the bidding process for contracts is fair. They also say they want to make sure that consumers are aware of how the project will affect their rates. ALCOSAN is not receiving any federal or state assistance for the project, and it's warned customers that their bills will jump in the future.

The controllers also say the cooperative efforts that helped ALCOSAN communities negotiate their consent decree supports the idea of more communities sharing services. The controllers would not say yet whether they support a proposed merger of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County.

Buhl Conservatory Upgraded

The Carnegie Science Center's July 4th VIP Extravaganza will provide insiders with the first look at some of the newest improvements to the Henry Buhl, Jr. Observatory. Renovations were made possible through a $200,000 donation from Bob and Joan Peirce of Sewickley and include the transformation of a fifth-floor storage area to a fully compatible education center. The fifth floor is now equipped with educational materials including a 52-inch plasma screen TV and will be used for special programs, astronomy classes, and can be rented out. Perhaps the biggest improvement to the observatory is the technological addition that now allows the telescope's view to be projected into the Buhl Digital Dome. Carnegie Science Center Director of Visitor Experience John Radzilowicz says the new technology will enable the the observatory to accommodate larger crowds when there are special astronomical events. In February, a lunar eclipse drew over 150 people to the observatory.

Amendments Removed From Redevelopment Bill

The Pennsylvania House has removed a number of amendments to a bill that would extend the Keystone Opportunity Zone program. The KOZ offers tax breaks for the redevelopment of blighted and contaminated areas like former mines. Amendments added by House Minority Whip David Argall would have required stricter reporting on the benefits of the KOZ program. Argall studied the KOZ program in college and found that even though the program created jobs, the state did not track who got the jobs or where they were. He says he removed the amendments because he didn't want to hold the bill up unnecessarily. He also says he was promised greater oversight by the Rendell Administration. The bill awaits further action in the house.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Pittsburgh Police Want Dashboard Cameras

The Pittsburgh Police Bureau may put cameras and microphones in its cruisers. The City Council has approved spending $135,000 for the equipment. Police say recording what happens in their vehicles will help provide evidence against suspects who become unruly while in custody. The recordings could also provide evidence if officers are accused of misconduct.

Police also plan to spend $100,000 on specialty vehicles that can transport large numbers of officers at a time. They say the need came to light as they were planning for potential celebrations following the Stanley Cup. Pittsburgh police had planned to borrow vehicles and equipment from surrounding municipalities in the event they needed to mobilize large numbers of officers at once.

URA Seeks Help in Making Over Market Square

Pittsburgh's Urban Redevelopment Authority will seek a $5.6 million loan from the state to help improve Market Square. The URA is applying for the funds through Pennsylvania's Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program.

Pittsburgh's Historic Review Commission has approved the proposed re-design of Market Square. But the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, which has invested in the project, has objected to plans that would remove some traffic from the square. Vehicles would still be allowed to drive around the perimeter of the square, but not through it.

Green Trust Fund Gets Preliminary Approval

The Green Initiative Trust Fund now has the preliminary approval of the Pittsburgh City Council. The fund will support a variety of green building initiatives and green projects recommended by a task force. The money the city saved by bidding out its electricity contract will go toward the fund. The trust fund legislation is expected to come up for a final vote July 8th.

West Nile Virus Found in Wilkinsburg Mosquito

The Allegheny County Health Department has verified its first case of West Nile Virus of the year found in a mosquito collected in Wilkinsburg. The Health Department sets mosquito traps to monitor West Nile Virus. After the first mosquito tested positive, Health officials treated the collection area with pesticides. ACHD spokesman Guillermo Cole says people should try to remove all standing water from their property since mosquitos breed in water. He also said that mosquitos can breed in as little water as can be held in a bottle cap and can reproduce in a few days. Due to the early finding of the first case of West Nile Virus, the Health Department expects to see more cases this year. Last year, 19 mosquitos tested positive for the virus and the first positive mosquito was not found until late August.

Riverlife Task Force Responds to Casino Request for Delay

Executive Director Lisa Schroeder says a delay may mean the public riverfront amenities in the original plan may never be implemented, and they are a crucial part of the city's overall riverfront park. Boat docks, landscaping, accessible ramps and pathways, and a 1000-seat concert amphitheater were supposed to be constructed as the casino is built, but developer Don Barden has asked the City Planning Commission for a three-year delay, after which an "implementation plan" would be submitted.

The stated reason for the delay is to keep the project within the original budget of $780 million, but Schroeder points out the cost of the riverfront features is $3-1/2 million, only .4% of the total.

The City Planning Commission will hold public hearings before voting on the delay.

Construction on the casino stopped yesterday because contractors are not being paid in a timely manner, and Barden is late in securing funding for the project.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Allegheny County Sheriff to Attend ACORN Forum

The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) is holding a public forum tomorrow at the Teamster's Hall in Lawrenceville. Allegheny County Sheriff William Mullen will be there. ACORN officials will ask the sheriff to place a six-month moratorium on foreclosures. However, Mullen says that it's more important to bring lenders and borrowers back to the bargaining table and re-negotiate mortgages. The Sheriff's office has already taken several measures to lower foreclosure rates, including creating a website and a foreclosure hotline. Mullen says it's still a problem, but the number of foreclosures in the Pittsburgh area has declined each year since 2006.

Pa's Health Care Cost Containment Council in Jeopardy

The Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council is caught in the cross fire of a legislative battle. The Council's funding ran out last night and the state legislature is trying to agree on a bill that would re-authorize the agency. But Republicans and Democrats cannot agree on whether to add to the legislation an extension of a malpractice insurance subsidy for doctors. Governor Ed Rendell says he will veto the bill if it comes to his desk with the subsidy included. State Senator Jay Costa says even though the Council is caught in the middle of a tug-of-war, he is confident that it will eventually be re-authorized.

Ownership of Freedom Corner Changes

Pittsburgh City Council voted today on three separate bills that all related to Freedom Corner in the Hill District. Freedom Corner ownership has officially been transferred to the city from the Urban Redevelopment Authority. The city also set up a trust fund for the civil rights monument that will pay for needed repairs. Councilwoman Tonya Payne, whose district is home to the monument, provided the trust fund's first $2,000. Payne says she hopes that the trust fund will prevent taxpayers from paying for repairs out of their own pockets.

Joint Town Hall Meetings Scheduled

U.S. Representatives Jason Altmire and Tim Murphy are set to hold two joint town hall meetings: one tonight, and one tomorrow night. The Allegheny County Congressmen are members of different parties (Altmire is a Democrat, Murphy a Republican), but the two share similar views. Both say that gas prices are the number one issue in their respective districts and both are concerned about veterans' affairs. Murphy says that the town hall meetings represent the type of cooperation between parties that must occur for the U.S. to keep moving forward.

Tonight's meeting will be held at the Monroeville Town Hall starting at 7:00 p.m., and tomorrow's meeting will be held at Penn State-Beaver also starting at 7:00 p.m.

Commuter Rail Rolls Forward

U.S. Representative Jason Altmire, a Democrat from Allegheny County, has shored up $500,000 from the federal budget to perform a study on a potential commuter rail system from New Kensington to downtown Pittsburgh. The study would look into the best routes, rider numbers, and the overall cost of the project. Altmire says the project would utilize existing rail lines and is important at a time when the national average for a gallon of gas exceeds $4. County officials met with Altmire today to discuss the rail project.

City Law Department to Pay Part of Council Legal Bill

Pittsburgh's Law Department will pay about half of legal bills incurred by Council members who challenged a billboard permit downtown. Council members Bill Peduto, Bruce Kraus, Ricky Burgess and Doug Shields hired a lawyer to help them in their dispute with Lamar Advertising, and they were billed $10,706. Councilman Patrick Dowd was also involved in the legal dispute with Lamar, but retained his own counsel. His legal bill is not included in the Law Department's decision.

Lamar Advertising has since re-applied for the billboard permit. A hearing is scheduled for later this month.

Report Confirms What Caused Bridge to Drop

PennDOT says a forensic analysis of the Birmingham Bridge has confirmed what caused the bridge's 8-inch drop on February 8th. The report showed that the shift was the result of several small events rather than one major event. Spokesman Jim Struzzi says PennDOT was aware of these small events and their effect on the bridge, but did not have the money to resolve them. Some of the smaller events include corrosion and debris within the rocker-bearing system. Struzzi also says that the shift is an isolated incident and that other bridges are safe. Repairs to the Birmingham Bridge will continue as planned.

State Senators Blast Electric Utilities

State Democratic Senators Vince Fumo, Lisa Boscola and Jim Ferlo weighed in on the pending elimination of electricity rate caps in Pennsylvania. Rate caps are set to expire in 2009, 2010 and 2011. When the caps are removed those rates will have consumers paying anywhere from 8 to 63 percent more for electricity. Senator Boscola says that deregulation in other states has been disastrous for industry, residents and the public sector--resulting in industry moving to states with regulated electricity, higher property taxes, and the closing of businesses. She says that while alternative sources of energy are important, they are insufficient to cover the needs of Pennsylvanians. Ferlo wants to mandate the Public Utility Commission to maintain sufficient data to assure utilities are acting in the interest of rate payers and to prevent market manipulation. The senators want the rate caps phased in over a five year period to soften the blow to consumers and they are calling for rates that either do not exceed inflation or do not exceed five percent, which ever is lower--indefinitely. Ferlo addressed his final comments to the the utility companies and their lobbyists by saying "let's get ready to rumble."

No Deal for PAT-Union

When the Port Authority of Allegheny County’s contract with its drivers and mechanics expired at midnight and no new deal had been reached the contract was automatically extended and a fact finder was requested from the Pennsylvania State Labor Relations Board. That fact finder is expected to be appoint July 15. At that time he or she will take testimony and issue a report within 45 days. At that time both sides have 15 days to review the report and either accept or reject it. During that time the union cannot go on strike and the authority cannot lock out the union. The process was set out by the 2nd class county port authority act of 1959. If one, or both, sides reject the fact finder’s report they can continue negotiations with the help of an arbitrator or there could be a work stoppage. Both sides have said they want to work on a deal rather than shut down the authority.